Increasing exports - key driver for USA

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Beef farmers across the mid-west of the United States are up for more trade deals between their country and the rest of the world, writes Richard Halleron.

They recognise this will leave the US more open to imports from countries such as Ireland and other EU member states. However, they fundamentally believe that they should retain the right to implant steers with growth hormones.

“Residue problems are not an issue,” said Merle Witt, an officebearer with the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. He was speaking at this week’s Iowa State Fair, which attracts approximately one million visitors over an 11-day period.

Witt added: “So why should our beef production practises be questioned in any way? Exports are our future. At the present time the Association sends trade delegations to both China and Japan on a twice yearly basis. And, no doubt, this practice will gather momentum during the period ahead.”

The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association has 10,000 members. It interacts with both the Iowa state legislature and the authorities in Washington on a range of economic and technical issues that have a direct bearing on the cattle sector.

Witt confirmed that US beef prices have fallen significantly over the past 12 months.

“This time last year, finishers were receiving $1.70/lb for beef on the hoof. Today the figure is $1.20. The drop can be accounted for by the growing pressure on incomes right across the US economy over recent times.

“I am hoping that farmer prices will stabilise at current levels. Cattle killed at the present time are leaving a profit of around $40 per head. There is a bonus paid on black cattle, which are assumed to be Angus-bred.

“Finishers in the Iowa area buy cattle in at around 700lbs live weight and bring them through to 1,300lbs over a 200-day period.”

Meanwhile farmers in the mid-west are looking forward to bumper crops of corn and maize this autumn.

“From a husbandry point of view the only fly in the ointment has been some soya crops’ disposition to sudden death syndrome,” said Mick Towers, a former president of Greene County Cattlemen’s Association.

“High yields of corn and soya should bring about a drop in feed prices. But this is a bit of a double edged sword for farmers in Iowa, most of whom keep cattle while also growing crops.”

Towers also believes that the future of the cattle industry in the US lies in its ability to export increasing quantities of beef to countries around the world. He has no issue with countries like Ireland exporting grass-fed beef into the American market.

“But it’s a two-way street,” he said.

“The US beef industry must be allowed to have its share of world trade. It’s all about providing everyone involved with a level playing field.”